Sinful Sustenance

At some point in time, humans discovered sugar, salt, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, high-fructose corn syrup, and all of the other ingredients that make those hours between meals worthwhile. Only a few infallible individuals--the pope, Al Gore--or those of exquisite taste can ever hope to avoid the millions of empty calories racked up by the average American.

Yet even those of exquisite taste must succumb at some point, which raises the question: In their moments of weakness, what are the "guilty pleasures" of Dallas' top chefs?

Well, their desires range from prepackaged junk to fast foods prepared by high-school kids. Joann Bondy, chef-partner at Ciudad, craves bar food, in this case chicken wings from Angry Dog. "I'm not embarrassed at all to be seen eating wings," says Bondy. "The trick," she adds, "is to sit at the bar and tell the bartender you want them hot and right out of the oven." William Koval, executive chef at The French Room, is partial to the all-American hot dog served up at Sonic. "It's all the nitrates and sodium," he claims. But as any chef knows, presentation really makes the meal. "How they come out of the foil, smoking hot, it just flows," Koval adds.

The chef of The French Room hanging out at Sonic? Say it ain't so. "When you sit and look at foie gras all night," Koval explains, "you just want to have something that's not good for you, but good."

Kent Rathbun of Abacus prefers the Tex-Mex cuisine of Taco Bell. "I could eat Taco Bell every day," he says. "I think it's the best fast food out there." Matthew Dunn, executive chef at Star Canyon picks up the occasional McDonald's quarter pounder with cheese--at the drive-through, no less. Unlike Rathbun, Dunn contains his passion for fast food: "It's not a daily thing," he says. "If it was, I'd be as big as a house."

Most chefs spend their days shopping for fresh foods, overseeing shipments, and supervising the preparation of filet mignon, Peking duck, or fennel a la Grecque. But Al Heidari, chef at Old Warsaw, wanders the grocery aisles in search of roasted peanuts. "It's my worst habit," he says. And you might find Kevin Ascolese, executive chef at Salve!, packing up on candy at the checkout counter. "I love Rolos," says the chef without hesitation. Ascolese, in fact, took a case of Rolo candy with him on a recent trip to Italy, just in case.

So Dallas chefs are susceptible to the same cravings as the rest of us. You'll find them bellied up to the bar with hot sauce smeared all over their fingers, shouting orders at the drive-through, or tossing junk food into shopping carts.

And yes, they too feel pangs of guilt over these little pleasures. "I can go without dessert," Ascolese explains, "but I'll just stop and get a candy bar. How do you get off that stuff?"


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